February 19, 2010

State Roundup Feb. 19, 2010

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In today’s roundup, we have a collection of bills trying to prevent distracted driving, Maryland retains its Triple A bond rating, and Sen. Andy Harris continues to fight Senate President Mike Miller.

DISTRACTED DRIVING: Julie Bykowicz has the report for The Baltimore Sun on a slew of distracted driving bills making their way through committee. Bills go from narrow (removing the loophole that allows people to read but not send text messages while driving) to broad (an outright ban of hand-held cell phone use, hands-free devices exempted).

GRADING PROGRAM: Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Joe Hairston promised not to make the controversial Articulated Instruction Module mandatory, after getting an earful from state lawmakers about the program’s failings, Liz Bowie writes in The Sun.

BOND RATING: Maryland has retained its AAA bond rating from all three bond rating agencies, The Daily Record reports. The news comes as the state prepares to sell about $600 million in general obligation bonds next week. Scott Dance and Gary Haber have more in the Baltimore Business Journal.

Annie Linskey points out that Standard and Poor’s warned about the dangers of the recent growth in the state’s pension system. And Liam Farrell writes in his blog for The Annapolis Capital that the bond rating is one of Maryland’s more “wonky” accomplishments.

STEM CELLS: House and Senate committees appear ready to renew the annual tug-of-war over the controversial state spending on stem cell research, Andy Rosen writes for MarylandReporter.com.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE: Scott Dance has an analysis of the unemployment insurance debate in the Baltimore Business Journal. Business groups have continuously foiled efforts to build consensus on the issue, Dance writes.

HARRIS: Sen. Andy Harris is refusing to fire his chief of staff Kathy Szeliga, as Senate President Mike Miller told him he should, Len Lazarick writes for MarylandReporter.com. And Szeliga plans to continue her campaign for state delegate. Alan Brody at The Gazette has more on the Harris-Miller controversy.

PARTISAN TURMOIL: Sean Sedam with The Gazette writes that this week’s debate over legislative pensions highlights a partisan divide that has become more apparent this year.

TAXES: Fraser Smith in his Corridor Inc. column says Maryland’s tax system needs an overhaul.

PUSH POLLING: A Harford County political firm has accused state Democrats of “push polling,” and is criticizing news Web site Center Maryland, whose founders include some former aides to O’Malley and other Democratic officials. Alan Brody with The Gazette has the story.

JOB CREATION: Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration said nearly 20,000 jobs have been created or saved in the state in its report to the federal government on stimulus money, the Associated Press reports.

ASSAULT WEAPONS: The sponsor of a bill to ban assault weapons is withdrawing the legislation because he doesn’t have support for it, Doug Tallman writes for The Gazette.

UMB AUDIT: Legislative auditors are criticizing $410,000 in payments to a top administrator at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Childs Walker writes for The Sun. University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan says this is the first time he’s seen an audit of this magnitude, Marcus Moore writes in the Gazette.

RACE TO THE TOP: Allegany County Public School officials want their share of up to $250 million pledged to Maryland by the federal Race to the Top initiative, but they’re leery of the strings attached, Kristin Harty Barkley writes in the Cumberland Times-News.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE: U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen is calling for federal legislation to roll back a recent Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to spend as they wish to promote political candidates, C. Benjamin Ford writes for The Gazette.

LINCOLN SPEECH FLAP: Alan Brody of The Gazette writes about a flap over Republican Sen. Bryan Simonaire’s address on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Some criticized it for veiled references to abortion, which he downplayed.

CLOSED CAPTIONING: Bars and restaurants would have to turn on closed captioning of their TVs if patrons ask for it, according to a bill advancing through the Senate that has apparently rankled even the agency that proposed it. Erich Wagner has the scoop for MarylandReporter.com

NORTHROP GRUMMAN: Former economic development secretary and Northrop Grumman executive Aris Melissaratos says Maryland has “done a pretty nice job” in its attempt to woo the company’s headquarters, Steve Monroe writes for The Gazette.

ELECTRIC CHOICE: John Rydell reports for WBFF on a bill promoting electricity choice and encouraging better competition. Supporters say the bill would better inform consumers that they have choices, allowing them to shop for the best price.

WORKERS COMP: A bill before lawmakers would make the state’s workers compensation insurer more independent, Doug Tallman writes for The Gazette.

TAX CREDIT EXTENSIONS: The Senate has passed extensions for two business tax credits that were due to expire, Kevin James Shay writes for The Gazette.

VIGILANTE SHOVELING: Del. J.B. Jennings took matters into his own hands during last week’s snowstorm, driving his own plow through the streets of Baltimore County. This and more in a robust Reporters Notebook from The Gazette.

ABUSE PENALTIES: Del. Christopher Shank is pushing for a bill that would raise the maximum penalty for first-degree child abuse resulting in death from 30 years to life in prison, Erin Julius writes in The (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail. Shank introduced the bill in the previous two sessions, but it didn’t make it out of committee.

JAIL JUGGLING: Local jails are losing state funding for housing inmates, Erin Cunningham writes for the Gazette, so they are pushing for the state to take on inmates it sentences to county jails for more than a year.

SLOTS OPPOSITION: A group fighting a planned slots casino at Arundel Mills mall has successfully gotten over 11,000 verified signatures, John Wagner reports for The Washington Post’s Maryland Politics blog. The group was required to have 9,395 by Feb. 5 to be able to continue to pursue a referendum on the issue.

HEALTH CARE REFORM: The state’s AARP director writes in The Gazette about his opposition to a bill that would nullify proposed federal health care reforms.

PUPPY MILLS: A bill making its way through the General Assembly would prohibit pet stores from selling puppies less than 9 months old, but lawmakers appear split on the bill’s consequences, Meg Tully writes in her Political Notes column in the Frederick News-Post. Proponents want to protect people and animals from puppy mills, but opponents say the proposal would unfairly harm pet stores.

GRANTS AND LOANS: Marta Mossburg encourages scrutiny of the nearly $1 billion in state money given to non-profit organizations and businesses to do the state’s business in her column for the Frederick News-Post.

SCRAP METAL: Laslo Boyd writes in his Gazette column about the behind the scenes excitement surrounding a bill to regulate the sale of scrap metal.

FUNDRAISING: Mark Newgent at Red Maryland spots that Del. Heather Mizeur’s ActBlue contribution page was still active yesterday, despite rules prohibiting fundraising during the legislative session. Mizeur responds in the comments section, saying she was unaware the page was still accepting contributions, and has since taken it down.

BUDGET CUTS: The GOP should “put up or shut up” if party leaders want deeper cuts to O’Malley’s proposed budget, Barry Rascovar writes in his Gazette column.

JAMES: Hotel owner and former Republican candidate for delegate Michael James announced his candidacy for state Senate, Brian Shane reports in The (Salisbury) Daily Times. The seat is up for grabs with the retirement of Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus. James will likely face Del. Jim Mathias, who also plans to run.

SAUERBREY: C. Benjamin Ford at The Gazette has an interview with former House minority leader and gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey, who is campaign chair for Sen. Andy Harris’ U.S. House campaign.

BROWN: John Wagner has his weekly “offbeat” interview with a state official. This week: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.